KENNY BALL

Born Kenneth Daniel Ball, 22 May 1931 (some sources say 1930), Ilford, Essex, England

Trumpet player / bandleader / vocalist. One aspect of the Shakin' years that hardly has been covered on the list so far is the "trad" (traditional jazz) phenomenon, which was quite big for a while in the early sixties, not only in the UK, but also in Holland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. During the skiffle era many British musicians were influenced by New Orleans styled jazz. By the end of the 50s every club in London had a jazz night. From this scene many jazz players who had started years before were brought into the spotlight, none more so than Kenny Ball. He was to become the most consistent hit maker during this period, securing 14 hit singles between 1961 and 1967, a mix of vocals and instrumentals. Kenny was keen on jazz from an early age, hearing many standard New Orleans favourites on the wartime radio. He started his musical career with a semi-professional outfit, Charlie Galbraith's All Star Jazz Band in 1951. By 1958 he had formed his own band, Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. They played Dixieland jazz, but with a slight contemporary feel. During an audition for a TV show they were heard by Lonnie Donegan and on his recommendation they were signed to Pye Records. They went on long tours of Europe, building up a sizeable fanbase and spreading the sounds of jazz to a massive audience. The band had its first hit in early 1961, with "Samantha" (from the 1956 film "High Society"), which reached # 13 in the UK. At the end of 1961, Ball had his biggest hit (# 2) with "Midnight In Moscow", an old Russian folk song. Not many people know that Ball stole both the arrangement and the English title from a Dutch record by the New Orleans Syncopators (1960). "Midnight In Moscow" was also released in the USA, on the Kapp label, and went to # 2 there as well in 1962, selling over a million copies. It was one of three big pre-Beatles UK hits in the US that year, all instrumental, the other two (both chart toppers) being "Stranger On The Shore" by Mr. Acker Bilk (another leading exponent of the trad movement) and "Telstar" by the Tornados. Other Top 10 hits (UK) for Ball were "March Of the Siamese Children" and "Green Leaves Of Summer", both from 1962. His last chart entry was a cover of "When I'm 64" (1967). In 1963 he was the first British jazzman to be honoured with citizenship of New Orleans. Despite the fall away in jazz's popularity after the Beatles broke through, Kenny remained a popular figure on TV. He toured Russia in the eighties and was still pleasing the crowds in the 90s.

Official website: http://www.kennyball.com Compilation: Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen (2 CD-set, 50 tracks, Pye, 2001).

 
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